A 90-day season with abundant snowfall brought 80,849 skiers and riders to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, including a more diverse group of users, General Manager Hiram Towle reported.
“We are getting a much more diverse cross-section of the valley, a lot more Latinos and more (visitors) from far away, and a lot of new-to-the-mountain skiers,” said Towle. “The valley population is growing. We definitely saw that with more new families coming up for their first time skiing.”
Skier and boarder visits were up 17 percent over last season’s 68,860. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a blue-sky day, was the season’s busiest with 1,782 visitors. About 75 percent of visitors are skiers.
Revenue in fiscal year 2016-17 has topped $3 million so far for the nonprofit Mt. Ashland Association. The mountain saw 368 inches of snow during the season, a snowpack that placed Mt. Ashland in the top 10 for total inches at North American resorts several times during the season.
California license plates in the parking lot, which the area tracks, were up. Night skiing also attracted more after-work riders and skiers this year, in addition to the usual after-school crowd, Towle said.
Daily lift ticket sales brought $426,000, or 95 percent of the budgeted amount. But that shortfall was more than covered by sales from other means.
“We did a lot of online sales, as well as at Costco,” said Towle. Members could get a three-pack of tickets at Costco for $99. The area’s website and sales via others, such as Liftopia, boosted the amount. Including pass sales, revenue generated by those using the lifts totaled $1.5 million.
April pass sales for next season brought in nearly $500,000 on 2,016 sales. Last April’s pass revenue was $323,000 for 1,318 sales.
Bad weather closed the area six days, one fewer than in the 2015-16 season. But the area also offered six days outside the regular schedule, four with an early opening Dec. 4 and a bonus closing weekend April 15-16. Night skiing on 19 evenings drew attendance of 8,549.
Two new features boosted available information for visitors. Users could choose to have text alerts sent on everything from powder days and special events to area closures or a full parking lot. Towle also did a daily Facebook report on conditions.
With support from several sources, the "Ski Hopper" shuttle service from Ashland was offered free during holiday periods and weekends. Ridership jumped from 250 paying users the previous season to 1,560 this season. The shuttle made two trips up and back on days it operated.
Food and beverage sales totaled $414,000, 28 percent more than expected. The Balcony Bistro reopened after being closed a couple of seasons, and Hilltop Coffee added espresso drinks to beverage options.
Snowboarders enjoyed updated equipment after purchase of a new fleet last summer, said Towle. Rental income was $170,000, up 14 percent over projections, and ski school brought in $203,000, up 11 percent. Income from youth and education programs, including after-school skiing and snowboarding, was $128,000, 35 percent more than projections.
“That’s a testament that we are growing those after-school programs up toward what they used to be,” said Towle.
Wages were up 6 percent as more employees were brought in to deal with larger crowds, said Towle. Utilities went up 35 percent over last year for fuel, electricity and propane to cope with heavy weather. But revenue growth was higher than expense growth, Towle said.
“We did a lot more snow removal,” said Towle. But it’s a problem he’d rather have, instead of spending money to move snow onto the mountain in low years such as 2014-2015.
— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.